Tom, An Invisible Man
by Travis A. Moore
part 1 of 2
Tom, a middle-aged man of endless routine and meaningless interactions, can’t sleep. He tries to read a book to lull him back into that wonderful land of the unconscious, where the pressures of the world evaporate throughout dreamscapes like graveyard mist.
When this doesn’t work and there’s no way in hell he can get to sleep, he looks for his shoes instead in a frustrated last resort. He steps out into the dark night and wanders beneath the stars in no particular direction. His pasty white legs stretch far down from a pair of bright orange shorts where they meet a pair of mismatched socks and perfectly polished, black dress shoes. A coffee-stained white undershirt is all he has on top.
The moon shines down on his unhealthy body like a giant flashlight and reflects off his spotless shoes as he heads out into the unknown. A run of the mill burnout shuffles through the shadowy streets with a sense of purposelessness burning in the void of his insides like an incurable heartburn.
Some of his black hair is plastered down against the side of his head and some of it reaches towards the heavens in a careless display. All the while, a permanent wave of worry fluctuates inside his eyes like the slightly rocking water level inside a dirty fish tank. His facial features bear a familiar contortion, an unmistakable inscription written into the expressions of men who have detoured from their own path of thinking.
The air starts to get cold and sharpens against his frail body like hardening ice cubes in flimsy containers. Tom considers going back up to his apartment to get a sweater, but he makes a surprising decision instead. He keeps walking. He actually does something out of the ordinary.
It could very well be argued, based upon his socks alone, that he is lazy as hell and refuses to walk back up the two flights of stairs to his apartment to get the sweater, but this time it’s something else. His decision causes a ripple of minor excitement to skim the surface of his arms in a domino effect of rising hairs.
He’s been bouncing around through life inside a gray balloon of numbness for quite some time now, breathing in its meaningless gases like an insignificant piece of floating lint. He just wants to feel something; even if it is only a small dose of discomfort offered up by the lonely, frigid night. His decision to do something out of the ordinary, to go for a simple walk, has opened a small vent of fresh air into his cloudy realm. This will be a night that he never forgets. He begins to face himself, using the solemn night as a vast witness to his innermost thoughts.
Tom thinks about his life as he moves through the quiet streets. He is quickly disappointed, although he is still riding some of that rush from rebelling against himself and going for a walk when all others are asleep.
The streets are wide and empty and each corner appears to be a mile away. The houses all look the same. Tom lives in a small apartment, stuffed into a tiny room on the second floor like a piece of living storage. The cars decorate the dark street like a row of sleeping metal babies, afraid and watched over carefully by the tall night-light street lamps.
A thread of fear sneaks up on Tom. A sharp pang of insignificance sets in when he inevitably compares himself to his immense surroundings. He can’t help but question his existence. He is a distraught pawn moving against a giant chessboard of confusion.
It’s a Friday night, and on Monday morning it’s back to a place that he loathes with a deep, muted passion; an incomplete anger that lends itself to emotion but subsides into a sea of acceptance before any action makes it to shore. It’s almost as if he were a teakettle that was purposely made without the lid as some cruel joke from the gods who are off somewhere in the cosmos eating grapes and playing with lighting bolts. He is capable of frustration but nothing more.
Tom receives his paychecks and pays his taxes as a car salesman. It’s a struggle for him to keep up with the young competition at work, and it’s a struggle for him to fight off the migraines on his drive home each night. Little empty pill bottles have helped with the pain; they decorate his car floor like fallen plastic soldiers in the war on splitting headaches. He says, “rest in peace” as he throws a new bottle into the graveyard every Friday night after work.
The fear materializes a little more inside his wobbly bones as he continues walking. His stride assumes an unnatural rhythm as though he were trying to catch someone behind him, spinning his head back at gasping intervals only to discover that nothing is there.
He soon clings to a vague sense of religion conjured up in sentimental images of his parents around the holidays, like a lonely old lady grasping an ancient figurine that can’t save her. Thick, colorful sweaters and cheerful mugs combined with a nice holiday smell and snippets of religious quotes ring inside his memory like silver bells.
These warm memories cover him like a blanket full of holes now that he is all alone in the quiet streets. He cannot connect with the sense of safety he so desires from these images. Interesting things can happen when one gets to this point; things never conceived of in the warm realm of comfort.
For some, this realization is a mirror that they’ve never seen before, and for few others — others with endless resources in their pockets — it’s a sharpening device for the imagination. Tom has never sat down to a cup of coffee and his own thoughts. He starts to realize this missed opportunity. It’s strange how some never develop their own thoughts. Somewhere along the path he traded his intuition for a peace of mind that grew tall weeds over his ideas.
It’s eerie how his inner voice faded away and others’ voices, stronger voices, started thinking for him. His own voice is locked away somewhere and he doesn’t look like he has the slightest clue where the key could be.
It’s safe to say at this point that Tom is not a happy man. His life has become a daily struggle that doesn’t make much sense when you do the math. However, he’s starting to wonder about this looming cloud of meaningless and growing curious as to how he’s allowed it to follow him.
It wasn’t always like this for Tom, though. There was a point in his life when he used to go out a lot more, socializing and hanging out with all kinds of people. He was emotional and passionate on different issues although he can’t remember what they were any more. He was popular with the ladies at one point and had to let some of them down.
At some point it all was all turned upside down for him, although, as mentioned before, he unknowingly detoured from the path of his own thoughts. Now he just comes home to his studio apartment and sifts through the channels while something frozen bubbles in the microwave. He then plops down on the couch.
He looks like he’s been attacked by a taxidermist who specializes in stuffing boring humans. He’s stuffed and full of it and doesn’t move to save his life except to change the TV channels, and that only takes fingertips. Once he comes through the front door, he is powerless to this familiar routine. It’s as if he has very limited control over himself.
Tom would go back in time if it were possible. He would do anything to change his life and not feel so anonymous if he only knew what to do. He’s starting to view himself as a puzzle piece that was forced into a picture that he doesn’t even like.
Tom approaches a desolate traffic light and waits patiently on the corner. A dark stillness of night sets the scene. There is a coffee shop on the other side of the street. The crackling neon in its window looks like excitement compared to what he’s thinking about. Maybe a cup of coffee can light a spark beneath his depressed ass.
A sneaky gust of wind suddenly appears and attacks him while he leans sloppily against the thin metal traffic pole. His white tee shirt ruffles like an SOS flag as he waits for the light to change. It’s peaceful out in the middle of the night, but Tom thinks about the sea of buzzing traffic that will pollute these streets in just a few hours. He always has a way of ruining good moments.
An invisible compass whose dial is summoned by a negative magnet draws him nearer and nearer all the time. This guy could make a motivational speaker do a swan dive into an empty swimming pool. He just doesn’t trust anything that feels like happiness anymore, always suspecting the worst to be right around the corner.
A mild paranoia has made a home in one of the closets of his mind. It surfaces every so often like a tricky assassin, gnawing at his nerves like a pair of possessed wind-up teeth. He says to himself, “I wish I could freeze time and live in the middle of the night forever.”
Right after he utters that strange wish into the dark night something bizarre occurs. A little boy suddenly appears on the corner opposite Tom. He is dressed in blue overalls and has a dark tan. He scratches the top of his little head and gazes at Tom. A glass bottle of red soda dangles from one of his hands. The dark red liquid swishes back and forth as he eyeballs the peculiar man leaning against the thin metal pole that looks like it’s about to succumb to an uncomfortable angle of weight.
Tom is perfectly still beneath the traffic light. He appears outta gas from thinking, but even more curious is the fact that he is absolutely frozen, frozen in time in the middle of the night to be exact, just as he asked for. He looks like an exhausted marshmallow.
Copyright © 2007 by Travis A. Moore